Description and Analysis of a Classroom Reading Observation Program Language Development and Literacy I EDUC 6818.81 Dr. Vicki Cohen LoriAnn Bespalko Monday, October 3rd, 2005 Description In the early morning of Tuesday, September 27th, 2005, two college juniors, education students at the Metropolitan Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, traveled to P.S. #21 in Paterson, New Jersey in order to conduct observations of an elementary school reading lesson. Their names were Mary Beth Verba and LoriAnn Bespalko. After sitting in traffic on Route 80 West, they finally arrived at their destination, and were greeted by the vice-principal, who also happened to be LoriAnn’s mother, Mrs. Rosalie Bespalko. Mrs. Bespalko escorted the girls to their respective classrooms, Mary Beth observing Miss Zimmerman’s first class and LoriAnn observing Miss Gerding’s class several doors down the hallway. Inside Mrs. Gerding’s classroom, LoriAnn found richly decorated walls, covered in student artwork and posters. The twenty-four students were sitting in chairs in the front of the room listening to Mrs. Gerding. Mrs. Gerding used a combination of the basal and phonetic approach to her teaching. LoriAnn later found out through the teacher interview that Mrs. Gerding, as well as every first grade teacher in Paterson must use the same reading series called “Harcourt Trophies”. The textbook creators script the entire ninety-minute lesson plan. The lesson integrated reading through a read-aloud of a poem, reading off of word flashcards, reading off of sentence strips, and shared reading in little books and in textbooks. Writing was also incorporated through the use of workbook exercises and journal writing and drawing. Spelling was also included in the journal exercises, as Miss Gerding recited a word and the students wrote down the correct spelling in their journal, followed by each student grading their own work. During her lesson, Miss Gerding used several different materials, such as the teacher’s manual, word flashcards, sentence strips, little books, textbooks, workbooks, journals, the chalkboard, and pencils and crayons for the children. Unfortunately, LoriAnn missed the beginning part of the lesson as Miss Gerding taught it, although she introduced it to her later during the teacher interview. Each reading lesson began with a “morning message” written on the board. For example, Tuesday’s message read, “Good morning! Today is Tuesday. I am a kitten.” One or two more sentences were also included. (The final sentence, although not at first making sense to LoriAnn, was later cleared up as she realized that the theme for the stories that day were cats and their children. During the reading period, the students listened to a poem, read words, read sentences, read several stories, did numerous workbook exercises, and a variety of journal activities. Throughout the lesson, Miss Gerding was giving directions and aiding the students in their work. The instructional aide was also assisting the students with their activities. At the beginning of the class, Miss Gerding addressed the class a whole as they were sitting together in the front of the room. Later in the lesson, the students returned to their desks, where they sat in clusters of four students each, although Miss Gerding still addressed them as the entire class. LoriAnn later discovered in the teacher interview that the students were seated according to ability. The names of the groups were the names of colors; LoriAnn found this to be a solution to many of the problems of differentiated instruction. Using the names of the colors, the students, nor an observer, would ever be able to tell which group was the high ability group and which was the low ability group. Later in the year, Miss Gerding shared with LoriAnn that she would be doing guided reading with each of these small groups. Although the instructional aide helped all of the students in the class, he paid particular attention to the students in the “green” group, which were the low ability students. Miss Gerding taught several different skills throughout her lesson, including listening, reading, especially of word families, phonetics, particularly “stretching out” and “blending” sounds, rhyming words through workbook exercises and nursery rhymes. Each of Miss Gerding activities lasted for ten to fifteen minutes. However, the entire lesson lasted for one-and-a-half hours. LoriAnn thinks that this situation is ideal for teaching first grade reading. The activities were short, so as to keep students engaged. However, the total block period is long, as to permit a large amount of material to be covered. As stated before, the room was organized with the desks in clusters. A table was at the front left the room and Miss Gerding’s desk was placed in the back. Ever possible inch of space was covered with student artwork, posters, or word cards identifying what each object was. Miss Gerding implemented a “Points System” in order to discipline students. For example, when the entire cluster of students behaved, she gave them one point. When one or more students were not behaving, they did not receive any points. At the end of the week, the students in the winning cluster were given candy as a prize. The majority of the class period was of time on task, except for several minutes throughout the period in which student shared their personal stories that were relevant to the story the class was reading. Impressions of the Lesson Although I feel that the Harcourt Trophies series is probably very effective in teaching students and having them achieve high standardized test scores, I feel that it does not permit the teacher to have any “creative license” with his or her lessons. It was close to impossible for Miss Gerding to personalize her teaching, or teach more than was indicated in the teacher’s manual. However, considering that it is only one month into the school year, it was evident that students had made significant progress in reading whole words, sentences, and even short stories. They were able to denote rhyming words, exhibiting phonetic awareness. They also had mastered the alphabetic principle, and were able to match each symbol with the correct sound. Recommendations for Miss Gerding Although it seems that there is no room for recommendations with the Harcourt Trophies series, I feel that the textbook authors, if not the individual teachers, must improve upon several items. For example, I feel that more listening should be involved. The students listened to a short poem at the beginning of the lesson, yet nothing else was read to them throughout the rest of the block. Additionally, the textbook authors did not provide transitions between activities. This, I feel, can be improved upon by the individual teacher as well. For example, before beginning a workbook exercise on words that rhyme with “at” and “ad”, Miss Gerding could have said, “We are beginning to learn about the word families of ‘at’ and ‘ad’. Soon, we will be deciding which words rhyme with each sound. However, maybe we can get a head start. Does anyone know a word that rhymes with ‘at’? How about one that rhymes with ‘ad’?” I feel that transitions between activities are not a difficult thing to improve upon. One thing that I found to be very strange throughout Miss Gerding’s lesson is that no students ventured to ask questions. It is possible that the students are afraid to ask questions because of the teacher-directed lessons. I feel that Miss Gerding, as well all of the teachers that use the Harcourt Trophies series need to let their students know that it is okay to ask questions, and even welcome and encourage them. Teacher Interview During the teacher interview, Miss Gerding informed me that she uses the Harcourt Trophies basal reader series. Each first grade in the district uses the same readers. Similarly, students in other grades use appropriate books from the same series. It provides a five-day lesson plan, in which all parts of the plan are included, particularly all skills that must be taught. After deconstructing the Success for All program last year, this program is new to the entire district. Although Miss Gerding did not select the reading materials herself, she told me that all of the teachers of the district voted to change from Success for All to Harcourt Trophies. However, Miss Gerding divulged that she enjoyed the Success for All program more. Miss Gerding teaches a heterogeneously mixed group of predominantly African- American and Latino first graders, whose native language is English. Six of her students are reading at a pre-kindergarten level. Five of them are reading above the first grade reading level. The remaining children are on level. Miss Gerding groups her students according to ability for seating for the guided reading that will take place later in the year. A standardized test, called the DIBLES test, is taken every marking period to determine which reading group a student is in. According to Miss Gerding, her favorite reading materials are the centers because they are geared to what her students need, especially games and hands-on activities. She felt that students this age need such activities in order to learn to their full potential. Ninety minutes are spent each on reading. Later in the day, Miss Gerding spends an additional forty-five minutes on Language Arts. She reads stories twice a day in her classroom: once during reading instruction, and once later in the day. In conclusion, Miss Gerding stated that she satisfied with the progress that her students are making in reading, particularly for the beginning of the year. Reflections and Standards I feel that, after performing this observation, I have learned that there are many different ways of teaching reading. Personally, I do not think that I would like to teach a very scripted lesson plan from a basal reader. I think I would prefer to use a textbook given to me by the school or district, but be free to create lesson plans that catered to my students’ needs and interests. Additionally, I feel that I met several of the New Jersey Professional Development Standards through this assignment. For example, Standard 4.1 reads, “Teachers know and understand available and appropriate resources for instructional planning.” Through this assignment, I learned that many teachers use teacher’s manuals and the corresponding textbooks and workbooks. For instance, Standard 4.7 reads, “Teachers engage in activities to plan instruction based on knowledge of classroom, school, and community culture.” The Paterson Board of Education decided to use the Harcourt Trophies series because many students move between neighborhoods and schools throughout the year. If the entire district is unified, the student will not be confused by a new teacher who is teacher something he or she has not learned, nor bored by a teacher that has taught something he or she already knows. Every first grade teacher is teaching the same material on the same day across the city. In essence, Standard 6.1 reads, “Teachers know and understand the principles and strategies of effective classroom management that promote positive relationships, cooperation and purposeful learning activities in the classroom.” I feel that Miss Gerding managed her classroom effectively through her Points System. The children cooperated and were engaged in the lesson. Standard 6.4 reads, “Teachers value and are committed to the role of students in promoting each other’s learning and recognize the importance of peer relationships in creating a climate of learning.” I also feel that the Points System touched upon this standard as well because the entire group was not rewarded if even only one student was misbehaving. This encouraged students to assist each other and support each other to behave. Standard 6.11 reads, “Teachers engage in activities to Use instructional time effectively.” Each minute of Miss Gerding’s ninety minute reading instruction time was filled with a meaningful activity. Conclusively, I feel that I have learned much about what I think I will enjoy—and not enjoy—about teaching reading one day. Hopefully I will be able to all that I learned and apply to my own classroom in the future.
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